Friday, April 28, 2017

RINGS 2/8/98: FREE FIGHT GALA 1998: THE KINGS OF RINGS

Free Fight Gala 1998: The Kings of Rings
February 8, 1998 in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sport Hall South drawing 8,500

IT IS TIME ONCE MORE FOR THE LOW, LURID SPECTACLE OF RINGS HOLLAND; IT IS NOT, NOR IT CANNOT COME TO GOOD as the annual Free Fight Gala is upon us. Historically I have found this horrifying, despite the opportunity to catch up with the rightly beloved Chris Dolman, and look at old pictures of him, like these:





The last image we are shown before we descend into sheer depravity is of Dolman and Akira Maeda walking beside the water . . .



. . . and then it is upon us; all of it. 

The first bout is between Christopher Haseman and a Valentijn Overeem who has put on an enormous amount of muscle, as though through his brother's horse-meat regimen. This is a shoot, surely, as I have little doubt all will be on this dark night. Again, the ring is tiny, and everyone is kind of in the ropes pretty much any time they are down, which makes a fairly gross farce of the RINGS rules we hold so dear. It looks like this fight ends a bunch of times as one or the other taps to a hold, but each time a rope is being held, too. Haseman has put on a good deal of muscle; it's not just Overeem. These bros have made gains. So swole are they, these two swolemen, that their big dumb muscles are worn out before the end of two rounds as they limp towards Overeem's decision win. (A while ago, a match that went a full thirty minutes I reported as having seemingly gone 30:07 officially, but I have since figured it to have been a kanji or katakana that I do not understand [obviously] that looks like a 7; please forgive me yet again.) 

Next we have Pedro Palm, a fat guy with hideous tattoos, falling to Sander MacKilljan in 2:13 and nearly dying, I think. Sander Thonhauser beats Cees Bezems with a kesa-garami arm-entanglement from kesa-gatame in fifty-eight seconds before we are offered the reprieve of watching people drill rolling knee-bars and other worthy waza in Dolman's gym. Dave van der Veen, who looks very strong, is profiled in his strength; he defeats Johan Boolean by hadaka-jime at 1:54 and seems rightly pleased with his little trophy. Willie Peeters is greeted as a hero as he enters the tiny ring to face Wataru Sakata, who comes reasonably close to finishing with several ashi-gatame (leg holds) but no, the ropes are always there in this tiny, dumb ring. Willie Peeters, who is dirty as shit, throws punches on the ground, which is plainly illegal, and when someone in Sakata's corner (not TK, who I can see, but someone else, who I cannot) objects, Peeters throws punches at him. Maybe Sakata's guy started it? I don't know, but Akira Maeda is up, and furious. This is stupid, and a no contest, in the end, after first looking like a filthy Willie Peeters win. Jon Bluming, who in 1958 was the first to teach judo at the university where I now do the same, in my own feeble fashion, as we have discussed previously and at length, comes to apologize or at least explain to Sakata, but even that is not enough to atone for what has been. 

I hate this.

Joop Kasteel finishes Bitsadze Ameran in a mere 2:15; Gilbert Yvel and "Dirty" Bob Schrijber somehow manage to get through one whole round and 1:12 of another without fouling each other or their own souls any more than usual as Yvel wins by kata-ashi-hishigi, the Achilles hold, let us say. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka puts Rob van Esdonk down really any number of times, but always amidst the ever-present ropes, and so it is not until 0:57 of the second round that he finishes with a heel holdo. The enormous Paul Varelans comes back from a fairly awful first-round beating to knock Dick Vrij radically out in probably the biggest win of his career? It's that or Cal Worsham, I guess. In another time, in another place (actually right here), and certainly in another voice, someone wrote the following of Paul Varelans in a dark tome that, if you have it, I hope you did not pay for but instead downloaded it, because it is everywhere, and the publisher should rightly be denied his profit as he is nearly as repellent as this whole ruin now before us:  

"As far as we know, Paul Varelans is the only professional mixed martial 
artist to represent the art of trap fighting — whatever that is. Varelans 
fought 18 pro bouts over the course of his career, so we had plenty of op- 
portunities to figure it out, but it was never clear what exactly was supposed 
to be trapped. As best as anybody could tell, trap fighting involved being ab- 
solutely enormous, and getting pasted by any and every name fighter you 
come up against. Varelans' size and his ability to take a beating were his 
calling cards, and while that didn't exactly translate into MMA success, it 
did earn him a relatively high-profile shoot-style professional wrestling bout 
against Peter "Taz" Senerchia, who worked a pseudo-MMA gimmick. 
According to the incredibly lurid autobiography of wrestling personality 
Missy Hyatt, Varelans was induced to lose the bout when Hyatt promised 
him a blow job. Afterward, in an impressive bit of wordplay, she then in- 
formed him that she didn't blow jobbers, the losers of pro wrestling 
matches. Varelans then apparently went berserk and trap fought the back- 
stage area into complete disarray."


WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY that might deliver us from this artlessness:

February 16, 1998: 

"OTHER JAPAN NOTES: This didn't get a lot of pub in Japan and we don't have much in the way of details, but RINGS ran its annual big show in Amsterdam, Holland that Chris Dolman always promotes on 2/8 before a reported sellout crowd of 7,500. We only have sketchy details of the show at press time. There was a huge upset in the main event as Paul Varelans of UFC fame, trimmed down to 260 pounds under the training of Frank Shamrock just seven days after taking a beating from Nick Nutter in Brazil, knocked out local hero Dick Vrij in the second round of a match that was fought entirely on their feet with neither attempting to take the other down and said to have been a war. RINGS runs every year at this time in Holland with all shoot matches and has sold out the past several years. The shows are usually the wildest RINGS show of the year because they use mainly Dutch kickboxing types as opposed to ground specialists or more well-rounded fighters. The only two Japanese fighters on the show were Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, who beat Rob Von Esdank of Holland in 57 seconds of the second round with a heel hook submission, and Wataru Sakata, who went to a non-decision with Willie Peeters when apparently Peeters committed a major foul."

and

"RINGS has a minor show on 3/3 (probably at Korakuen Hall) and a bigger show on 3/28 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall."

and

"Not a lot new regarding the next UFC show. Nothing has been officially signed although there are also no changes from the proposed matches we've been listing. There will be a heavyweight match most likely involving two of these three fighters, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka from RINGS, Hugo Duarte from Brazil and Kimo. There is virtually no chance that Nobuhiko Takada will be in UFC in May in Japan after all (and it's still not a lock the May UFC will be in Japan in the first place). Apparently his contract for the Gracie fight with KRS stipulates he can't appear as a participant for any other promotion until the fight in October. As mentioned before, there is still an outstanding huge money contract between UFC Japan and Ken Shamrock and the World Wrestling Federation but whether it'll be honored if/when there is a Japan show in May isn't clear either. There has been a lot of talk that the May main event would be Randy Couture defending his title against Mark Coleman."

February 23, 1998:

"2/8 Amsterdam, Holland (RINGS - 7,500 sellout): Dave van der Veen b Johan Buur, Valentijn Overeem b Christopher Hazemann, Pieter Von Gammeren b Jerry Kalia, Sander McKillian b John Verstegen, Sander Thonhauser b Kees Beezems, Willie Peeters b Wataru Sakata, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka b Rob Van Esdank, Joop Kasteel b Bitzsadze Amiran, Gilbert Yvel b Bob Schreiber, Paul Varelans b Dick Vrij"

and

"Some notes on the RINGS show on 2/8 in Amsterdam, Holland. Actually Willie Peeters beat Wataru Sakata on points and it was not a no contest. Apparently the decision was very controversial due to reported inconsistent officiating, so much so that it was reported in Japan it was a no contest. RINGS will return to Amsterdam in June. Paul Varelans was actually himself thinking he was going to lose to Dick Vrij, and got hammered badly in the first round. He had gone into the fight busted up from a match in Brazil with Nick Nutter, and super-glued his cut shut before the fight. But he saw that once the round was over, Vrij was totally blown up and he came back in the second round and knocked him out in 1:38 of that round."

So nothing at all, then, and we are condemned. Until next time, that is! See you then! Thanks for abiding this horror!

RINGS 1/21/98: WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997: GRAND FINAL

World Mega-Battle Tournament 1997: Grand Final
January 21, 1998 in Tokyo, Japan
Budokan Hall drawing 9,200







LET US GO THEN YOU AND I TO THE 日本武道館 which is to say the Nippon Budōkan for that is the appropriate venue not just for this weekend's upcoming 全日本柔道選手権大会 Zennihon jūdō senshuken taikai All-Japan Judo Championship (it is always held on April 29th!) but also and indeed far more relevantly to our endeavour the WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997: GRAND FINAL as we crown not just a tournament champion as we have in previous years but also, and for the first time, a RINGS heavyweight champion in an ongoing sense (I think this is a mistake). But before we can get to that, our door must first be darkened, it would seem, for the first time in a while by Herman Renting, who longtime readers will perhaps recall I don't like. He is in with an unusually tanned Wataru Sakata, who defeats him mae-hadaka-jime in I believe a shoot in a mere 3:24 and there seems to be some animosity between the two as Sakata held the choke an instant longer than one might otherwise, and then he goes like this: 


  
I don't know if the usually level-headed Wataru Sakata has been in some way wronged by Herman Renting to bring all of this about or if maybe he just can't stand him and can't even say why; I have heard that can happen with regard to Herman Renting.

Dominque Deligny, who some of us may recall from a fairly recent Korakuen Hall, is here at the Budokan to see about Masayuki Naruse, our Light-Heavyweight Champion (this remains an error in my view). These fine fellows appear to be going pretty long so why not take a minute to look at gifs of Takashi Ojitani winning last year's All-Japan, his second in three years (still didn't make the team for Rio, so harsh)? His osoto-gari 大外刈 was really humming! These first two are against no less a foe that Ryu Shichinohe (the third gif is an alternate angle of the second throw):





Then in the final, he scored big with it on Daiki Kamikawa (the last person to defeat Teddy Riner!) fairly early:




So firmly had he planted this waza in the minds and perhaps indeed in the hearts of his foes throughout the day that when at last he merely feinted with it, the stout and sturdy Kamikawa fairly crumpled to the mat from the slightest 支釣込足 sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi (a lifting and drawing ankle-block):



It's really quite magnificent!


I would understand if you feel like you maybe would have preferred to have learned more about Masayuki Naruse's win over Dominque Deligny by kata-ashi-hishigi (an Achilles hold) at 19:24 of a match in which Naruse had Deligny on the run throughout (as demonstrated by the lop-sided score before the eventual finish), but at the same time, we really are very close to this year's All-Japan, and to hold the RINGS event we are currently discussing in the very Budokan itself is nothing short of entrapment for judo telling. And so here we are. If things lag even slightly the rest of the way, I am posting the draw. 

Sionne Latu enters to the theme from the Mortal Kombat movie, and it would be absurd to pretend that you didn't eagerly see that movie the instant it opened at the suburban movie theatre by the water that you could walk to from from your then-house but which doesn't exist anymore, just down from the Dairy Queen you would usually go to after, which doesn't exist anymore either. I remember thinking the movie was okay but that I would have liked Sub-Zero to have been featured more prominently. The film's director, Paul W. S. Anderson, I have just learned, is married to Milla Jovavich and they have two girls, and it sounds like things have worked out very well for them in their life together. Sionne Latu kind of stomps around and yells to the crowd and they love him; he is super intense, a kind of Wanderlei Silva-esque figure to the extent that he has a bald head and then also all of his muscles look like bald heads. But his energy is not really the same and it is a poor comparison that I apologize for. He is doing a lot of shadowboxing and so one expects him to be a striker . . . like in Mortal Kombat. It does not seem as though he will pose too many problems for TSUYOSHI KOHSAKA, however, who takes him down with a low, tackling morote-gari (two-hand reap) and comes pretty close to a juji-gatame and then hadaka-jime and then juji-gatame again, so he is going arm to neck and back to arm before things seem to settle out a little with Latu betwixt TK's legs but without much idea what to do there, I don't think. Kohsaka swings through for an ashi-gatame (leg hold) of some kind or another, works through an option or two, and settles on the toe-hold of ashi-dori-garami. He has time, because Latu is just kind of holding on, and that's the finish at a pretty wild 1:58. Good match! This has all been good so far. 

Bitsadze Tariel, no less enormous than in any of his many earlier appearances, will face Hans Nijman (R.I.P.), who comes out to the version of "Aces High" from Live After Death, prefaced, even, by Churchill's speech about where we will fight them. For more on Churchill's Georgism, why not read this 1909 speech? Andrew has recently become a Georgist and I think it is important to support him in this. Tariel wins by doctor stoppage when Nijman tweaks his knee on spinning kick, and while I hope Nijman's knee is ok (well it's not ok now, R.I.P.), it is remarkable to see Tariel loom over him in pitiless karate-guy readiness:


It would seem that we are intermission at the Budokan right now as highlights of seemingly every tournament match are shown so I think it is time for us to look ahead to this year's All-Japan brackets, ever-so-lightly annotated at the lovely judofan.com site:



The Judofan writes:

"The noteworthy athletes’ names have been translated and can be seen in red. Before looking at those athletes however, let’s first discuss how they got here. The champion and runner-up from the previous year get the top 2 seeds going into the tournament as well as an automatic invite. Therefore, you see Takeshi Ojitani (#1) and Daiki Kamikawa (#23) at the top of each half of the bracket.

3 additional players were awarded special entries and were not required to participate in a qualifying tournament. Those slots were awarded to Mashu Baker (#9), Shohei Ono (#31), and Hisayoshi Harasawa (#34). To be selected in this way, one must: (I) be a 2016 Olympic Champion, (II) be a 2016 Olympic medalist in the +100kg category, (III) be a 2016 Tokyo Grand Slam champion in the +100kg category, or (IV) be either ranked in the top 22 in the +100kg IJF rankings, or be specially selected by the All-Japan Judo Federation (source). Everyone else was required to enter through a regional preliminary tournament(s)."

Yeah it is only an extremely lofty few who don't have to fight their way in according to the strictures of their prefecture. Much of the excitement this year surrounds Shohei Ono, who skipped the All-Japan Selected (weight class) tournament, and therefore the Worlds this year, so he could get more work done on his thesis. I totally get it: the All-Japan openweight is just one day, you go, it's amazing, and whatever happens, you're done. If he entered the Selected and won (which is by no means definite but reasonably likely), then he's got a whole trip to Budapest to take him away from his studies again. Who needs it? At a certain point either you finish your thesis of your thesis finishes you. The Judofan write-up is really great, and I totally recommend it. To summarize his excellent work very briefly, as the RINGS intermission now draws to its close: Ojitani and Kamikawa should both make the quarter-finals; Shichinohe is in tough; Ono's bye in the first round probably won't do him much good in the second against either Kensei Ikeda of the Japan Racing Association Team or Sosuke Matsumura who is a 142kg 17-year-old who just won the All-Japan High School Championship; Hirotaka Kato who everybody loves and who won in 2012 is still there lurking with his weird style and strong ne-waza; and, finally, this year could be big for YUSEI OGAWA, son of Naoya, who is very proud of him already:


AND WITH THAT WE TURN FROM THE BUDOKAN THAT IS TO BE ON APRIL 29 2017 TO THE BUDOKAN THAT WAS JANUARY 21 1998 as Akira Maeda is welcomed as the great hero he has long been to so many of us who admire realer-than-usual fake-fighting and here he is battling Volk Han for third place in this WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT. Say what one might of Maeda's struggles with his physique in recent months (really the last year or so, ever since the most recent knee problems), he is a man of admirably mighty thighs, and certainly not many of us are that. Volk Han, in his ever-wolfish leanness, has Maeda on the run with ude-kansetsu, arm-bone-locking, as he pursues with both the reverse entanglement of gyaku-ude-garami commonly called Kimura and the arm-crushing-cross-mark-hold of ude-hishigi-juji-gatame commonly called the best. MA-E-DA MA-E-DA MA-E-DA though is the Budokan's view of this. Han looks too to the leg-bone-locking of ashi-kansetsu but it is Maeda whose ASHI-GATAME (as the commentator rightly exclaims) forces the first rope break.


And we know, don't we, that Volk Han's knee has either fakely or really (who can say?) been not so great of late, so it should come as no great surprise when Maeda finishes with another ashi-gatame only seconds later in a narratively-satisfying 4:24 to claim third place.

And with that all that remains are the finals of this really very good TOURNAMENTOOOO between Kiyoshi Tamura and Mikahil Ilioukhine and I come into this optimistic about the shoot-style taste-level possibilities inherent in such an encounter and instantly am rewarded for that optimism by Ilioukhine's takedown attempt that Tamura did not go up to lightly for but instead dead-weighted him a little so Ilioukhine had to finish with the minor-outer-hook of kosoto-gake. By the time I am finished telling you this, Tamura has gone up too lightly for the next pick-up, and so my enthusiasm is muted but only slightly because that's one takedown each way, and I can live with that. I am less into Tamura doing a flip to escape a standing gyaku-ude-garami like all of a sudden Aikido was viable but at least Ilioukhine punished him for it at once with juji-gatame (I take this kind of comfort in NJPW Junior Heavweight matches quite often, in that the division at present contains several people whose work I do not enjoy even slightly, but KUSHIDA punishes them for their [aesthetic, græppling, moral] failings with arm-locks [he and Hiromu Takahashi are the best guys in that division by so much {Taguchi is good and Liger is still a king}]). Six minutes in, Tamura is down by two points but he is striking well so who is to say who truly holds the advantage. Well I mean clearly it is Ilioukhine, who has just sent Tamura to the ropes again, this time with juji-gatame. Ah, but Tamura has nearly drawn even with a knockdown! What had we just noticed about the striking! We sure know how to watch things! Tamura's kicks are really snapped in there. I don't know if I remembered to mention that Kohsaka's kicks seem to be exactly as hard whether he is working or shooting? Tamura's are the same way. Hey there's another one of the wrong kind of super-light pick-up, and the crowd, which had been shrieking moments ago and would be that way again soon after, were utterly silent during it and I do not understand how this can persist. ILIOUKHINE STEPOVER JUJI-GATAME AS THOUGH THE KIND OF HAN HE IS IS A VOLK ONE but Tamura makes the ropes. This is very good! And Tamura's rolling gyaku-ude-garami/double-wrist-lock escape from a waist-lock is the best thing yet! Now they are super into leg-locks! Ilioukhine makes the ropes. That's five points lost for Tamura, three for Ilioukhine, and we are about eleven minutes in. Some very fine græppling exchanges follow until Tamura just pounds the stuffing out of Ilioukhine with knees so we're tied at five at 15:32! Ilioukhine kind of tried to throw with waki-gatame (armpit-hold/Fujiwara armbar) which is pretty dangerous! The commentator said WAKI-GATAME in both excitement and, I think, maybe dread? That's cetainly what I felt, anyway. Don't worry though, everybody seems to be fine. Tamura kicks so hard for a match where it is pretend, my goodness (that's another knockdown). JUJI-GATAME DESU JUJI-GATAME DESU TAMURAAAAAAAAA KIYOSHIIIIIII FINISHING HOLDOOOO


THAT WAS REALLY GOOD AND TAMURA IS OUR CHAMPION.


Tamura is awarded a belt and a laurel diadem and a medal and three trophies and a mountain high and a valley low and a chaise longue.
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY ABOUT THE CHAISE LONGUE (there wasn't one really, I am being lighthearted):

February 2, 1998:

"1/21 Tokyo Budokan Hall (RINGS - 9,200): Wakaru Sakata b Herman Renting, Masayuki Naruse b Dominique Deligny, Tsuyoshi Kousaka b Sione Latu, Bitzsade Tariel b Hanse Nyman, Akira Maeda b Volk Han, Battle Dimension tournament championship: Kiyoshi Tamura b Ilioukhine Mikhail. OTHER JAPAN NOTES: The biggest show of the past week was the finals of the RINGS Battle Dimension '97 tournament on 1/21 at Budokan Hall which drew 9,200 fans. Previous Battle Dimension finals at Budokan have drawn between 11,000 and 14,000 which tells the story of both the current popularity of RINGS and of the attempt to build the future around Kiyoshi Tamura [this seems unduly harsh, I don't know, that is lots of people to have at the Budokan--ed]. Tamura wasn't helped when his final was against Ilioukhine Mikhail rather than the more respected Volk Han, who Tamura had two classic matches against. Tamura won with the armbar in 18:12, while Akira Maeda won the third place match beating Han in 4:24 with a kneelock. People could believe in that with Han selling the knee so big at the December show, and the short match may also be because Han really was hurt."

not RINGS but I saw it, and needed to share:

"At the Battlarts show on 1/20, Yuki Ishikawa said that he wanted to wrestle on the New Japan 4/4 Dome show, and if not, just wanted to be able to watch Inoki's final match from ringside as one of Inoki's seconds." 

Who wouldn't want that? 

Also R.I.P. Maurice Smith in RINGS:

"Maurice Smith has signed a two-year contract with K-1 which starts with a match on 4/9 against K-1 Grand Prix champion Ernesto Hoost. Smith is expected to do the UFC PPV show in March, and his K-1 contract allows him to continue to work UFC but means he's done with RINGS. Smith has made a demand that he won't fight in UFC if John McCarthy referees his match."

February 9, 1998:

"1/21 RINGS: 1. Wataru Sakata beat Herman Renting in 3:24 with a front necklock submission. Renting is a RINGS veteran from Holland who hasn't been around much the past few years after being something of a name foreigner in this promotion during its infancy. This match was obviously a shoot because you can't fake that intensity with Sakata dominating the match and looking good, with quick, solid matwork, in doing so; 2. Masayuki Naruse beat Dominique Deligny, a kickboxer from Australia in 19:24. Deligny weighed 200 pounds with a good physique, but didn't look roided. This also looked pretty realistic, a shoot at least at some level [I am no closer to understanding what Dave means when he says things like this--ed.] or perhaps Naruse carrying Deligny, who was shooting, before putting him away. Even though Naruse had the decided advantage, Deligny got a few reversals and it was competitive, with Deligny actually coming close to getting a shoulderlock and staying near the ropes so he was able to escape whenever he was in trouble. Deligny wanted the match on his feet of course, but Naruse kept taking him down. Naruse had a 7-0 lead in points before getting the submission with a heel hook in a good match; 3. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka beat Sione Latu in 1:58. This also looked like a shoot. Latu, who weighed 201, is an American bodybuilder said to have boxing and judo experience. The crowd got into his look, with shaved bald head and great muscle structure and he had a lot of natural charisma. Kohsaka took him right down but Latu got over escaping a few submissions. Kohsaka intensely started working for an armbar but Latu got away, but then Kohsaka got the ankle lock for the submission. Really exciting. Even though it was evident from the start that Latu was totally outclassed, he made an impression; 4. Bitzsade Tariel beat Hanse Nyman in 6:35. This was a worked match and was the worst match on the card. At one point Nyman even had Tariel's back and just let him up. Really neither wanted to go to the ground, and when they got down there, Nyman would get the positioning edge and then just let him get up. Finish saw Nyman go for a spinning back kick but his left knee went out and he laid on the mat in pain and the match was stopped. Nyman was walking around fine backstage after the match; 5. Akira Maeda beat Volk Han in the third place match in the Battle Dimension tournament in just 4:29. Obviously this match was worked but unlike the previous match, it was good RINGS style. Everyone seemed to know the story of Han going in with the bad knee. Since this match was exchanging submissions, where Han is the master, as opposed to stand-up, where Maeda gets tired and looks bad, they played to their strengths. Maeda kept going for the knee, and then finally got it, and Han did a tremendous sell job before making the ropes. When he got the knee a second time, Han immediately tapped; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Ilioukhine Mikhail in 18:12 to win the Battle Dimension tournament '97 and also become the first RINGS world heavyweight champion. When it comes to the ability to make a worked match not only look like a shoot, but also within that context deliver more often than not the excitement level of a classic story pro wrestling match, Tamura may be the best worker I've ever seen and he is definitely the best around right now. Everyone knows and respects his ability within Japanese wrestling and even within the martial arts world which usually puts down people of this type because they made their reputation in worked matches and he's even respected by the types that put down Pancrase because of the occasional work. He's going to need all the help he can get being 194 pounds and being world heavyweight champion and being groomed to be the top star of a pro wrestling company (Akira Maeda is still the top draw, but he'll be retiring this year). His career and this promotion over the next year are going to be very interesting to follow because of such a small man being put in this position in a promotion that purports to be a shoot. His role is also interesting because he was a great underdog because of his size and because his top matches were against people that because of rep he was expected to lose to. He's had some great matches against much bigger men, and as champion, he's now beaten everyone of any substance in the company already. Tamura definitely lived up to his rep here as this match was a total work, yet looked more like a shoot than most shoots do. Mikhail is a colorless performer, but he was good enough in taking, reacting and executing that it was the best RINGS match in months and very close to the level of the Tamura-Han classics. Before the match started, Bobby Heenan said how neither of these guys would ever give up, thus making sure everyone knew all the submissions were just restholds. At one point Mikhail was even working to get a figure four leglock and in the context looked so believable that nobody laughed. Of course at that point Heenan piped in with that Mikhail wasn't using the hold trying to win the match, just showing that he could do that. Mikhail got several near submissions and Tamura's selling was world class before dramatically getting to the ropes for a break. Of course at that point Tony Schiavone said that neither one really wanted to win at this point in the match to make sure nobody took those spots too seriously. Built great to the finish as Tamura started dominating throws lots of knees to the chain and getting two knockdowns with them before catching Mikhail in the armbar for the submission. At that point Lee Marshall piped in with how the finishing sequence was reminiscent of the Lucha Libre style of wrestling. I thought this was a better "pro wrestling" match than Flair-Hart. That says something because of the limitations of doing a totally realistic as compared with serious American style and because not only was it better pro wrestling, but it looked like a shoot and when was the last truly great pro wrestling match that would fit into the latter category?" [what an unbelievable mess that turned into; what possessed him?--ed]

Maeda's name brings us the sad news of Kingdom:

"A return of the biggest drawing Vale Tudo match of the modern era between Rickson Gracie and Nobuhiko Takada was announced by Kakutogi Revolution Spirits (KRS) for 10/11 at the Tokyo Dome, exactly one year after their first bout in the same location.

The match was announced at a Tokyo press conference on 2/2 with both in attendance. Gracie, who was also in Japan to promote a new clothing line bearing his name, said that this would be his only fight in 1998. Takada, who quit the Kingdom promotion just a few days earlier, said that he would still be open to do other matches as tune-ups before October. Gracie's announcement kills whatever chance there was, and realistically there was no chance to begin with, of Gracie being the final opponent for the retirement match of either Antonio Inoki in April (where there was no chance) or for Akira Maeda in September (where there was also no real chance although Maeda had been promoting the idea of it for the past several months).

Gracie, reputed in some circles as being the best fighter in the world, although he has never taken on any upper echelon NHB fighter since the NHB movement became popular in the United States and Japan over the past four plus years, easily defeated Takada, a pro wrestling legend with a manufactured shooter reputation who had actually never been in a legitimate NHB match before in his career, in 4:47 before a crowd estimated at 40,000.

Last week Takada, along with other Kingdom pro wrestlers including recent UFC tournament champion Kazushi Sakuraba, Yuhi Sano, Minoru Toyonaga and Shunsuke Matsui left Kingdom. Apparently a Nagoya billionaire set Takada up with a Tokyo gym where he'd teach both martial arts and bodybuilding scheduled to open in April and Takada took several of the Kingdom wrestlers with him to help train and open the gym. At the press conference, Takada said that his wrestlers would still do Kingdom and would be open to other martial arts fighting events (such as UFC), but would not do traditional pro wrestling such as New Japan. There had been talk that Takada would join up with Antonio Inoki's World Martial Arts Federation as an NWO type heel group within New Japan and work lucrative Dome dates.

With Takada and Sakuraba leaving, Kingdom was rumored to folding after its 1/28 show in Tokyo. However at that show, Kingdom boss Ken Suzuki, a long-time personal manager of Takada and who at one time was the President of Takada's Fan Club, announced Kingdom would be continuing with a major show in Tokyo in March, plus overseas cards in May in Hawaii and June in Israel.

KRS announced one more match for its 3/15 Pride Two show at Yokohama Arena, which reportedly has a poor advance for Mark Kerr vs. Bronko Cikatic and Gary Goodridge vs. Marco Ruas as headliners with Kerr's appearance still in question due to his New York state court fight ongoing with Semaphore Entertainment Group regarding his UFC contract. That match will pit pro wrestler Sakuraba, coming off his UFC tournament victory, against Royler Gracie, a smaller brother of Royce and Rickson, who has won numerous World championships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competing at 147 pounds and is unbeaten in NHB. That match will be intriguing largely because Gracie, having the edge in experience, will be giving up about 35 pounds to Sakuraba, who has a few matches under his belt although did have a somewhat fluky win of a UFC tournament on 12/21 through winning only one match. KRS also announced it would be running Pride Three at a major arena in Japan in June (the only match announced for that show will be Kimo vs. pro wrestler Sano), and that the October Tokyo Dome card will be called Pride Four.

UFC has reportedly been interested in using Takada to headline its planned May return to Japan. With Takada already having the Gracie match on his table, it would necessitate Takada either being put in a worked situation or being put in with an opponent so easy the outcome would be guaranteed as at this point he can't afford a loss. Ken Shamrock and the World Wrestling Federation have a big money contract to the Japanese promoters of UFC and there were assumptions it would be honored in May as well, although it appears any thoughts of matching Takada with Shamrock are out the window as Takada simply can't afford that risk."

AND WITH THAT LET US BID FAREWELL TO WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997 and with it truly embrace the 1998 that awaits us. More soon! Thank you for your time!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

RINGS 12/23/97: WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997: SEMI-FINALS

World Mega Battle Tournament 1997: Semi-Finals
December 23, 1997 in Fukuoka, Japan
International Center drawing 6,800





WHEN FIRST THEY TOOK TO FIGHT IN UWF NEWBORN Akira Maeda's victory over young Kiyoshi Tamura was swift; when next they met in RINGS it took like five minutes longer; what awaits them--and, indeed, us all--as they ready themselves once more? Probably a really good match of shoot-styling, I would suggest to you, given how great their last one was as Tamura's aloofness (the price, perhaps, of his waza's ease?) gave way to purest young-lionesque fire. The people of Tokyo were with him then; will those of Fukuoka be like to them on this night? Also I think Grom Zaza and Ricardo Morais is probably going to be a shoot so let us not tarry.  

Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Christopher Haseman is a can't-miss opening bout in my view and could easily fall at either end of the work-shoot spectrum. Naturally I object to Kohsaka's treatment thus far in World Mega-Battle Tournament 1997 in that in the first round, he was the lone guy who had to win a shoot in order to move on (and it was a tough one!), only to be booked for a(n excellent) shoot-style loss to Mikhail Ilioukhine in the second round. While I suppose the idea was to go senpai (先輩, "earlier colleague") and kōhai (後輩, "later colleague") in both semi-finals (Maeda vs. Tamura, Han vs. Ilioukhine), and while that is a good idea, my view here is that Kohsaka should have been permitted to shoot throughout and smother (not literally [although maybe]) all opposition en route to a surprising but deeply satisfying tournament championship. But the world doesn't always play out quite like an "Audience Mode" game of Fire Pro A; sometimes all we are left with is a very high-level Tsuyoshi Kohsaka non-tournament shoot-style win over the neon-green-booted Christopher Haseman by means of a hiza-hishigi (knee crush) applied in a mode analogous to ashi-kannuki (leg-bolt [think of everything just slid down a little]) at 11:12 in one of the better RINGS opening bouts ever probably. 



Masayuki Naruse and Wataru Sakata are next in what sounds like a much likelier opening match than Kohsaka and Haseman but perhaps my thinking on this is antiquated to the extent that it does not take into account the ill-advised RINGS Light-Heavyweight Championship (I reject it still) that Naruse seemingly still holds but of which much does not seem to be made. This match is very good, and has a lot of Masayuki Naruse kind of half-sitting on Sakata--


--in the variation of  浮固 uki-gatame or "floating hold" (a position only recently recognized by the Kodokan [like earlier this month!] as sufficiently distinct to warrant its own classification) that is commonly called "Ecky-gatame" after Neil Eckersley, 7th dan, 1984 Olympic bronze medalist at -60kg, now a painter who lives in Stavanger, Norway but who exhibits more broadly:


Naruse wins by hadaka-jime, the naked strangle, at 12:10, and ok yeah, there's his Light-Heavyweight Championship belt (still not a good idea).

Next we have Willie Peetes in a vale tudo match against Sean Alvarez, a large man whose build is deeply reminiscent of a sort of build enjoyed by steroid users but I cannot impugn him as I don't know anything about this man other than that, a Renzo Gracie guy, he did not have a particularly distinguished mixed fight career, but as he took three silver medals at the ADCC, can safely be said to græpple very well indeed. He has Peeters very much on his heels throughout the 9:10 it takes him to secure a gyaku-ude-garami/reverse-arm-entanglement/double-wrist-lock/figure-four-arm-lock/Kimura/I think that's all/yeah that's probably it/ok yeah. This was not bad but was deeply unremarkable in my view.

OK HERE WE GO RICARDO MORAIS VS. GROM ZAZA IN WHAT WILL SURELY BE A SHOOT ARE YOU READY HOW CAN ANY OF US TRULY BE I MEAN LOOK AT THESE GUYS:



I always think of this as the Fire Pro angle, forgive me
The rules are vale tudo and so as soon as Grom gets Morais down (this happens absolutely immediately) he can also throw wild Zaza blows; it is thrilling, and the people thrill to it. Soon enough, Morais establishes the "guard" favoured by his people (it will forever be hikikomi to me) and Zaza is not really in much of a (dis)position to pass it as such but instead seems ready to merely lay atop his foe. For how long, Grom Zaza? For as long as it takes, Grom Zaza answers from the mouth of his cannon. The people are with him, though: all he does is scooch slightly, and they are like hwwwaaaaaaiiiiii clapclapclapclap. He takes a notion to pass, I think, which gives Morais just enough space to scramble out, but guess who is going to win a scramble between Ricardo Morais and Georgian Freestyle Wrestling 100+kg Olympian Zaza Tkeshelashvili aka GROM ZAZA yeah that's right Grom Zaza is going to and in fact did. I would understand if others--people, say, who were neither present this night in Fukuoaka, nor me--watching this would think it dull or uneventful but to me, right now, and I believe also to the crowd on hand, there is such purity to this laying. Every little tap of a punch that Zaza lands is met with such heartwarming approval. Maybe RINGS fans really don't care for the enormous foreign fellow who brutalized and embarrassed Yoshihisa Yamamoto? And like Grom Zaza better here for that reason alongside the usual reasons for liking Grom Zaza? Morais really has nothing at all for Zaza on the mat, like nothing, as Zaza hangs out in niju-garami or "half-guard" for much of what remains of our time here on earth. And lest you think Morais is, whilst enormous, a sheer chump of some kind, he is only a few months away, here in late 1997, from taking second-place in the open-weight division at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship (I am listed as a source in the very wikipedia article I am checking right now so it is circles within circles, stay woke). 

Morais is finally able to get to his side, a little, but so near the ropes is he and indeed are they that Yuji Shimada wants them to schooch in and restart from the same position, which leads to a scramble, a takedown, yet more laying, and rousing chants of ZAZA ZAZA ZAZA . . . and of course I agree. The bell rings! It is has been thirty minutes of this! Zaza takes the obvious decision! And does a front handspring and a kip-up in celebration before he is hoisted aloft by Volk Han! In fact, Georgian Olympic Wrestling is strong!


And Volk Han is back at once for the RINGS Russia portion of the World Mega-Battle Tournament 1997 Semi-Finals against Mikhail Ilioukhine who, no, why, please don't, noooooo he immediately picks Han right up on his shoulder, and Han goes as limp as can be, and the crowd--and I do not say this lightly--is totally like this:

-_- 

And I am too! This needs to stop. Once the ne-waza begins in earnest of course things are way better and in fact really very good. The people demand juji-gatame, and both Han and Ilioukhine intend to deliver. In so saying, I do not mean to imply that leg-locking or ashi-kansetsu is by any reasonable standard in short supply, because it extremely is not, and if you feel misled, however briefly, please accept my apology for that. Ilioukhine just hit a shoot-style back-body-drop, like as in the pro-wrestling move where the dude comes off the ropes and you duck down, and while nobody came off the ropes here, they might as well have for how well this move went over (utter -_- silence). There is no question that this match is not a shoot, as I have totally mentioned implicitly already by deriding a couple of throws as nonsense, but the finish at 9:36 I think probably was, in that Volk Han's knee seems to have fallen apart at a thoroughly anti-climatic point in the match, like he was just trying his step-over juji-gatame into a sumi-gaeshi (an admittedly sikk waza, there is no question) when he just grimaced and was done:


ONLY MAEDA VS. TAMURA REMAINS as we get a lot of Akira Maeda backstage readying himself as his ever-compelling theme plays and the people chant his name in the driving fashion to which we have long been accustomed. He comes out first, though! For it is only now that Kiyoshi Tamura's probably-even-compellinger song echoes through the hall. A true changing of the guard, perhaps? Is it time to go all the way with young Tamura? They have done everything but, treating him as an enormous star since his first appearance, and main-eventing more often than not of late. I was about to say that Maeda has pulled himself together a little physically but I think it was just a flattering angle for a second there. Maeda sprawls out of Tamura's low morote-gari tackling double-leg takedown and rolls him about with a front face-lock before Tamura pops up and out and spins all over and we are very much underway! The first catch goes to Maeda with an ashi-kansetsu leg-lock but it is not very serious, don't worry. Tamura takes Maeda's back and rides high as though in pursuit of a rolling juji-gatame but his hips point the wrong way on it and so it cannot be taken all that seriously (Maeda traps Tamura's inside leg to effect this; it is not that Tamura does not know what to do [he totally does]). Maeda now on top, which is a bad place for him to be (æsthetically) with his build, and now he is swept, his back taken, but Tamura still can't get that rolling juji-gatame to come together.  A second catch for Meada, a cranking kubi-hishigi neck lock, but Tamura pops out. Tamura "sells" total, all-consuming anguish when afflicted by Maeda's hizh-hishigi knee-crush/calf-slicer, but makes the ropes. He eats a high kick and a bunch of knees, Tamura does, but is not knocked down so much as græppled there and in the ensuing things ends up grasping for the ropes to escape a choke. OH THERE'S THE JUJI-GATAME oh ok I thought Tamura was going to win right there, they got me. They stand, and now Tamura fires in some nifty kicks! But that doesn't do it. Maybe this kata-gatame arm-triangle! No, Tamura didn't even really get it locked in. I am too eager for the finish! THERE IT IS JUJI-GATAME KIND OF ACTUALLY OUT OF NOWHERE AT 14:44 THAT WAS WEIRDLY SUDDEN BUT TAMURA IS AT LAST YOUR KING PLEASE BEHOLD HIM



WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY: 

December 29, 1997:

"The only news we have on the 12/23 RINGS semifinals of the Battle Dimension tournament from Fukuoka are that Illoukhine Mikhail upset Volk Han in 9:36 when the doctor stopped the match and that Kiyoshi Tamura beat Akira Maeda with the armbreaker in 14:44, setting up Tamura vs. Mikhail as the main event at Budokan Hall on 1/21 to determine this company's first world heavyweight champion. Tamura beating Maeda is big news and good booking as it elevates Tamura into the position he needs to be when Maeda steps down as Maeda needed to put him over clean. The other result makes no sense, and since doctor stoppages aren't part of their normal worked finishes, perhaps Han was supposed to go over but accidentally got cut in a bad spot, but at the same time, if that really was the situation, they'd immediately just go to the finish. The booking is strange because Tamura vs. Mikhail is a poor main event to draw at Budokan and makes the tourney finals very much anti-climactic as nobody sees Mikhail as a top guy while Tamura vs. Han have had classics in the past. For the mainstream there would be more interest in Maeda vs. Han in the third place match. In what may have been shoot matches on the show, Grom Zaza, a former Olympic games wrestler from Russia, scored an upset over previously unbeaten Ricardo Morais of Brazil winning a unanimous decision after going 20:00, and Sean Alvares from Brazil beat Willie Peeters of Holland."

January 5, 1998:

"12/23 Fukuoka (RINGS - 6,800): Tsuyoshi Kousaka b Christopher Hazemann, Under-209 championship:Masayuki Naruse b Wataru Sakata, Sean Alvares b Willie Peeters, Grom Zaza b Ricardo Morais, Illoukhine Mikhail b Volk Han, Kiyoshi Tamura b Akira Maeda.  After doing the job for Kiyoshi Tamura at the 12/23 RINGS show in Fukuoka which drew 6,800, Akira Maeda said that Tamura would be the next big star in the promotion and again issued his own challenge to Rickson Gracie before he retires in September. It's quite a risk for any promotion, let alone a supposed shoot promotion, go with a 187-pound guy as it's top babyface, although Tamura is the class worker in the company and has been used as the headliner on the last several shows to ease his way into the No. 1 position."

January 19, 1998:

OBSERVER AWARDS! The relevant ones to our endeavour are as follows:

BEST PROMOTION
1. NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING (311)2,270
2. All Japan Pro Wrestling (115)1,529
3. World Championship Wrestling (131)1,337
4. Extreme Championship Wrestling (39)677
5. World Wrestling Federation (77)646
6. RINGS97
7. EMLL84
8. Michinoku Pro72
9. Pancrase70
10. Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling64

BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER
1. DEAN MALENKO (214)1,519
2. Chris Benoit (82)939
3. Shinjiro Otani (63)785
4. Ultimo Dragon (50)485
5. Mitsuharu Misawa (56)420
6. Volk Han (38)345
7. Kiyoshi Tamura (54)308
8. Eddie Guerrero (24)291
9. Koji Kanemoto (18)272
10. Bret Hart (14)143
Honorable Mention: Kenta Kobashi 140, Daisuke Ikeda 97, Rey Misterio Jr. 94, Steve Regal 79, Ken Shamrock 73

READERS PERSONAL FAVORITE WRESTLER [a great category that Dave should bring back--ed.]
1. CHRIS BENOIT80
2. Ric Flair67
3. Steve Austin60
4. Shawn Michaels39
5. Manami Toyota36
6. Shinjiro Otani31
7. Jushin Liger26
8. Super Delfin25
Rey Misterio Jr.25
10. Bret Hart20
Honorable Mention: Eddie Guerrero 13, Mankind 13, Kenta Kobashi 13, Undertaker 12, Takako Inoue 12, Mitsuharu Misawa 11, Koji Kanemoto 11, Toshiaki Kawada 10, Brian Pillman 10, Volk Han 10

WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
1. MITSUHARU MISAWA (338)2,288
2. Bret Hart (72)758
3. Kenta Kobashi (79)722
4. Steve Austin (79)705
5. Shawn Michaels (51)510
6. Shinya Hashimoto (10)345
7. Shinjiro Otani (19)208
8. Koji Kanemoto (18)197
9. Toshiaki Kawada (3)194
10. Rey Misterio Jr. (12)191

Honorable Mention: Jushin Liger 154, Eddie Guerrero 87, Dean Malenko 74, Maurice Smith 74

SHOOTER OF THE YEAR
1. MAURICE SMITH346
2. Vitor Belfort48
3. Dan Severn47
4. Mark Kerr41
5. Don Frye33
6. Yuki Kondo32
7. Mark Coleman19
8. Randy Couture17
9. Frank Shamrock15
10. Tom Erikson12
Honorable Mention: Masakatsu Funaki 11, Bas Rutten 11, Kevin Jackson 9

SHOOT MATCH OF THE YEAR
1. MAURICE SMITH VS. MARK COLEMAN 7/27 BIRMINGHAM357
2. Vitor Belfort vs. Randy Couture 10/17 Bay St. Louis43
3. Lisa Hunt vs. Donna Cauthen 4/12 Amarillo35
4. Carlos Baretto vs. David Beneteau 10/17 Bay St. Louis26
5. Wallid Ismail vs. Yoshiki Takahashi 2/7 Dothan13
6. Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada 10/11 Tokyo12
7. Kimo vs. Paul Varelans 12/7/96 Birmingham11
8. Frank Shamrock vs. Tsuyoshi Kousaka 9/26 Sapporo9
9. Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott 12/7/96 Birmingham7
Frank Shamrock vs. John Lober 1/20 Honolulu7

January 26, 1998:

"Weekly Pro Wrestling magazine in its 1/20 issue did its annual attendance rundown for 1997. According to magazine figures, which in a sense shouldn't be taken seriously since virtually all the smaller groups exaggerate their attendances something fierce, there were 42 major promotions that operated in Japan last year, totally 1,437 house shows and drawing a total of 2,796,321 fans. The total audience as far as announced attendance went had topped 3 million the past several years, so this would be the lowest when it comes to announced attendance in recent memory. Of companies where we can take the attendance figures as something approximating accurate, New Japan drew 710,272 fans in 135 house shows (5,261 fans per show), All Japan drew 426,650 in 135 house shows (3,160 per show), RINGS drew 64,470 on 13 shows (4,959 per show), Michinoku Pro drew 70,449 on 126 shows (559 per show) and Pancrase drew 44,900 on 14 shows (3,207 per). The financially beleaguered All Japan womens promotion still ran almost double the amount of shows of any company in Japan in 1997, running 268 house shows. Other companies running more than 100 shows last year were FMW (118) and JWP (115)."

February 2, 1998: 

JAPANESE TELEVISION RUNDOWN


"12/23 RINGS: 1. Tsuyoshi Kousaka beat Chris Hazemann in 11:12 with a kneelock. It was a back-and-forth worked match. The finish looked good. Hazemann, who is an underrated undercard worker, came equipped with a new physique. Match was good for RINGS style; 2. Masayuki Naruse beat Wataru Sakata in 12:10 when Naruse got Sakata's back and got the choke. The match looked as though it could have been legit, but it was also kind of boring. Naruse controlled the first several minutes until he missed a try for an armbar and Sakata got the mount. More of a strategic chess match than a wide open match, similar to a Pancrase match; 3. Sean Alvares beat Willie Peeters in 9:40 in a Vale Tudo rules match. There was no question this match was legit. Alvares, who had a 21-pound weight advantage and appeared to have a new physique, totally dominated. Alvares took Peeters down right away and Peeters spent the rest of the match trying to get out of the ring. Alvares got a few flurries of punches in and rode him like a wrestler the entire way until getting a shoulderlock for the submission. Peeters, who won the first Holland cage fight (UFC style) tournament in impressive fashion a few years back, didn't even get one offensive move in; 4. Grom Zaza beat Ricardo Morais via decision after 20:00 in another Vale Tudo match in a huge upset. This was also a shoot, and a boring match, although the crowd was into it seeing the giant Brazilian dominated for the first time ever. Zaza, a former Olympic wrestler, took Morais, a 6-8, muscular 265 pounder down at the bell and mainly controlled him in boring fashion, throwing a few punches here and there. The crowd was chanting for Zaza since Morais could never get control. Morais got one brief reversal, but Zaza reversed back almost immediately. Morais had the guard on most of the way and really this match could have been a draw, although the crowd was so into seeing Zaza on top and chanting for him that it was a unanimous decision; 5. Ilioukhine Mikhail beat Volk Han in 9:36 in the finals of the Battle Dimension tournament. Han was by far the best guy on the show putting on almost a clinic of how to do a worked shoot style match with a broom. He single-handedly made the match great until blowing out his knee doing a move. Don't know if this was the worked finish, since it came out of nowhere and looked legit. Han losing made absolutely no sense because for the finals at Budokan, Han vs. Kiyoshi Tamura had at least some drawing power while Tamura vs. Mikhail had almost none. The only tip-off that it might have been the finish is that Han controlled the entire match, and usually when it comes to the top guys in worked matches, the person who controls the match usually loses at the end, although perhaps they were working a long match and he hadn't given Mikhail his comeback yet before beating him. Since it was a pro wrestling match, it was a very good match with a flat finish; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Akira Maeda for the first time in his career in 14:44 with an armbar. They worked the match to look legit, but it was only good in brief minute-long spurts a few times during the match. It started fast, then slowed down. It picked up halfway through and looked like it was going to build into being a great match, but then it again slowed down. Tamura got a lot of good strikes in just before they went to the ground for the finish. This wasn't as good as their previous match."

I MUST AGREE that this was not as good as their previous match but it is still worth seeing! As is the rest of this show! As is all of 1997 RINGS, now at its end! Perhaps there will be a way for us all to enjoy these shows together again. But until that time, should it come, I thank you for your attention to these matters as communicated through my meagre prose. Thanks!  


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

RINGS 11/20/97: WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997: 2nd ROUND

World Mega Battle Tournament 1997: 2nd Round
November 20, 1997 in Osaka, Japan
Chuo Gym drawing 5,110






THOSE ARE VERY STRONG GRAPHICS IN MY OPINION as we enter the second round of this year's Mega-Battle Tournament which, for reasons that are not clear to me rationally but which I understand in my heart, has been upgraded to a World Mega-Battle Tournament. The first round was very good! It consisted of a number of well-worked shoot-style matches plus also they decided Tsuyoshi Kohsaka should have to fight a Bulgarian junior national wrestling champion for real. Will that prove to be the lone shoot in an otherwise shoot-style tournament, as we saw with Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto a year ago? Will there be others? I can't imagine there will be but who can say!

Our opening, non-tournament bout between Lev Barkala and Gilbert Yvel is certainly a shoot, and I don't like it at all, as it is just Yvel fleeing to the ropes in ludicrous (though understandable) fashion whenever Barkala wrestles up on him even slightly. Yvel has Chris Dolman in his corner, which is good, but has been disqualified over the course of his career a bunch of times for things like biting and eye-gouging, which is bad, but none of that had happened yet as of late 1997 here, which is . . . good? I don't know. I am a little horrified to see that he has fought as recently as November 19, 2016, against Ricco Rodriguez (oh no) at a show called "Akhmat Fight Show 31: Ushukov vs. Vagaev" held in literal Grozny. He won, but that seems incredibly irrelevant. He also wins here, in 1997, against Lev Barkala, stopping him with knees at 10:47. I don't feel good about any of this.

MUHAMMAD YONE? He doesn't have the awesome hair here (not that his hair here is ungood, it is just not the Afro with which we most closely associate him) but this is still verifiably Muhammad Yone, just look:



Here he will do battle(art) with Masayuki Naruse, and I am pretty intrigued! I think this one might be a shoot, too? Oh ok maybe not, but Masayuki Naruse's uchi mata 内股 "shoot" impressed me and I am "shoot" enjoying all of the ne waza (ground technique) that follows, so play on, dear fellows. And so they do, until such a time (5:35) as Naruse squeezes tight the naked strangle of hadaka-jime 裸絞. Good match! I don't think Masayuki Naruse's RINGS Light-Heavyweight title (which I resist still) was at stake here, as he didn't even have it with him. Maybe they have had second thoughts about the whole thing? I have just checked its title history at the vital prowrestlinghistory.com and it lists no other champion of that title, and says only that the title was dissolved, but does not specify when. Maybe immediately! 

Tsuyoshi Kohsaka vs. Mikhail Ilioukhine is a match that interests me greatly whether it be shoot-style work or shooting proper as both men are high-level artists in either field of endeavour, and herein lies the enormous appeal and probably also the deep poetry of RINGS; I am so happy right now. I think it is a work? Yes. Let's see what they get up to! Kohsaka's crisp kicks make great sounds but one is caught and Kohsaka is grounded; from there he pursues, as the commentary notes, the leg-entanglement of ashi-garami. There are hiza-juji knee-bar and gyaku-ude-garami reverse-arm-entanglement attempts on each side before Ilioukhine grabs the rope for the bout's first escape about three-and-a-half minutes into it clapclapclapclapclapclap. Ilioukhine's pick-up, though a little light, is much less so than the recent ones that have so offended my shoot-style sensibilities and I mention it here to praise it as a step in the right direction. From there, Ilioukhine attacks with juji-gatame, but his loose knees allow Kohsaka to hop out and around and over the top for another hiza-juji knee-bar, and everyone loves it. Ilioukhine does a lot of his work from the gyaku-ude-garami/Kimura grip regardless of what exactly he is looking to apply, and I approve of this so hard, as it is just the best grip! Kohsaka goes up only like a third of the way on Ilioukhine's next pick-up and instead rolls him to the ground with a lovely sutemi-waza (sacrifice technique) and comes up top for the mae-hadaka-jime front choke, and that's rope break number two. Kani-basami! TK attacks with the crab-scissor only rarely but it is looks very good whenever he does so. More ashi-kansetsu (leg-bone-locking) and that is rope break number three. Is this supposed to be a little like TK's previous (shoot) match, in which he ran up the score on Boris Jeliazkov for thirty whole minutes but couldn't finish him? AHHHHH that was quite a head-kick he just put Ilioukhine down with, yiiiikes. I like it when people get tangled up in the ropes together and the referee yells "BREAK, NO ESCAPE" because his meaning is totally clear but it is still a pretty dark thing to say. Ilioukhine has lost five points thus far, Kohsaka two, in case I have missed anything in my report so far (surely I have). The striking is pretty intense for a moment or two before Ilioukhine drags Kohsaka down and comes seemingly very close with a mae-hadaka-jime front choke that Kohsaka eventually pops out of and everybody cheers. Sankaku-jime 三角絞, the triangle choke! This is TK's finishing move in Fire Pro A and also Fire Pro R however it does not finish here, and actually I can't think of a single match he ever won by it. Rolling knee-bar! By Iioukhine! But it kind of fell apart! And so he grabbed a heel holdo! And that's it at 14:16! I am surprised by the result but really liked the match all the same despite my clear and unwavering partisanship. 


I do not think we live in a world (nor do I think such a world could exist) in which Mitsuya Nagai could ever be granted a shoot-style win over Akira Maeda, even once we have reached the point where this is literally Akira Maeda's body:

For a couple of months I thought Maeda had righted the ship and was making at least incremental improvements to his build but no; no; it's gone now. A major factor in this, I am sure, is Maeda's perpetually trashed knee, which Nagai works on here through steadily applied ashi-kansetsu (leg-bone-locking). Nagai is up by four points as we near the ten-minute mark! I don't know which is more surprising, that Nagai is doing so well, or that this match has gone ten minutes. You know, I think Akira Maeda has had a much better 1997 than 1996? It would be very easy to go back and check to be sure but it would be even easier to merely posit it. Nagai doesn't lose his second point (rope break) until we are like sixteen minutes in--who knows how long this one is going! Oh it is over at 17:00 exactly, Maeda, hadaka-jime, the naked strangle. This was quite good! After the match Maeda and Nagai stare at each other until Maeda slaps him, which I do not understand at all, but it seems rude.  

Volk Han and Dick Vrij could be good! I haven't been keeping track but I bet Dick Vrij has one of the better RINGS records of anyone: they have kept him super strong ever since his début in the main event of the very first show all the way back in 1991 (an understandable loss to Akira Maeda). Vrij knocks Han down early, rolls his way ropewards to escape a couple of holds, then knocks Han down again. And again! Dick Vrij is so tall that he can grab the ropes from pretty much wherever he is in the ring when Volk Han (also tall) has him in any manner of kansetsu (bone-locking) or shime (strangulation) waza (technique). NOT NOW THOUGH as Vrij has tapped to a terribly applied choke as his leg came up just short in its bid to get its eensiest toes atop the bottom rope. This match was ok until the pretty poor finish (at 7:15) but in any event it is Volk Han who advances on this day. 

Joop Kasteel was caught in the middle of a railroad track, and he knew there was no turning back; he'd been, as I have already intimated, thunderstruck. This is the song to which he enters to face Kyoshi Tamura, who wears at least the third different U-File shirt since that august camp's founding mere months ago. This one . . . has long sleeves. One assumes a shoot-style work as opposed the kind of straight shoot that left a winded Joop Kasteel unable to stand after a rope-escape against Petey "My Heart" Williams but who knows. I like Tamura's chances either way! This despite the massive size difference between them but I think Joop Kasteel has proven his big showy muscles to be not just gaudy but also fairly useless for shooting. Ah, the deep satisfaction of defeating a far musclier foe because of the truth and purity of waza! Gather such pleasures while ye may, would be my advice to everyone who likes stuff like that. The first rope escape is charged to Tamura but it is impossible to take seriously. Yes, see, Tamura wins by heel holdo at 6:30 and strides from the ring in the full measure of his glory. 

  
I liked this show!

WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY: 

December 1, 1997: 

"11/20 Osaka Chuo Gymnasium (RINGS - 5,110): Ivor b Bakula, Masayuki Naruse b Mohammad Yone, Illoukhine Mikhail b Tsuyoshi Kousaka, Akira Maeda b Mitsuya Nagai, Volk Han b Dick Vrij, Kiyoshi Tamura b Joop Kasteel The RINGS Battle Dimension tournament continued on 11/20 in Osaka at Chuo Gymnasium before 5,110 fans with the quarterfinals. In the lone upset, Illoukhine Mikhail beat Tsuyoshi Kousaka with a heel hook in 14:16, while Akira Maeda beat Mitsuya Nagai in 17:00 with a choke, Volk Han beat Dick Vrij in 7:15 with a choke and Kiyoshi Tamura beat Joop Kasteel in 6:30 with a heel hook. This sets up the semifinals on 12/23 in Fukuoka as Maeda vs. Tamura and Vrij vs. Mikhail. However, Maeda appeared to blow out his chronically bad left knee in the Nagai match and we don't have any word on what his situation will be in regards to 12/23. Han vs. Mikhail will be probably the first meeting between teacher and student. The winners meet on 1/21 at Budokan Hall in RINGS' traditional biggest show of the year. Maeda vs. Tamura is also interesting in that Maeda won their previous meeting and this may be Tamura's last chance to get a win from the soon-to-be-retiring Maeda. With Maeda retiring, he may give himself one last tourney victory similar to the exceedingly successful gimmick Riki Choshu did in 1996. The promotion has been putting Tamura in the main event slot on every show, even though Maeda is still the big drawing card, a trend that continued this past week even though Tamura's opponent was a guy who has largely been pushed as a large muscular prelim guy."

and

"Judging from magazine photos, it appears the result of the 11/3 Kingdom main event was Masahito Kakihara beating Patrick Smith and not the other way around as were the reports we received. Kingdom ran on 11/19 in Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center drawing an announced 2,612 with Hiromitsu Kanehara going over Smith in the main event. Kingdom's next shows are 12/2 in Hakata Star Lanes (Kanehara vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, Yuhi Sano vs. Smith), 12/8 in Kagoshima (Kanehara vs. Sakuraba and Smith vs. Kenichi Yamamoto) and 12/14 in Tokyo at Yoyogi Gym (Kanehara vs. Wallid Ismail and Sakuraba vs. Paul Herrera. Kanehara vs. Ismail will almost certainly be a shoot, while Sakuraba vs. Herrera (a former UFC fighter who is a member of Tank Abbott's gang) may be as well. The 12/14 show will actually be a PPV in Japan so hopefully we can detail it. DirecTV, which debuts in the Japanese market on 12/1, is using this event as a promotional tool as a PPV, but since the number of addressable homes is so few, it's not like there is any money to be made at this point. Kingdom's ring style can almost be described as worked UFC type matches. The style itself makes for more exciting matches (at least when the Japanese are involved, as some of the matches with Americans who don't understand the style and have never worked before look pretty bad) then RINGS or Pancrase, but the lack of interesting match-making and big marquee name fighters seems to have this promotion doomed to be a non-factor in the big picture."

and

"There was a tournament in Tel Aviv, Israel on 11/15 won by Russian Igor Vovchanchin, beating American amateur wrestler Nick Nutter in the finals. Vovchanchin upped his record to 19-1 with the win, with his only loss coming at the hands of RINGS wrestler Illoukhine Mikhail." CHIN TO THE EYE

December 8, 1997:

"Pro wrestling is whatever enough people are willing to buy. What works economically is what pro wrestling is. Pro wrestling is not limited to what the WWF, WCW or even New Japan and All Japan are doing. ECW, or FMW, or IWA, are all pro wrestling as long as they can survive economically. They cease to be pro wrestling when they can't survive, not when they stop working under standards set and associated with pro wrestling in times past or even times present elsewhere. On that account, ECW is a big success coming from nowhere and being a genuine player, albeit a secondary player, in the PPV industry. No, they aren't New Japan, or even WWF. Nor are they RINGS or Kingdom or for that matter Lucha Libre, nor are RINGS and Kingdom anything like WCW. But they are all pro wrestling, just as Country, Top 40, Rap and Classical music are all under the umbrella as music. At the same time, missed and blown spots are missed and blown spots and just because they're done by wrestlers who are over with the crowd and forgiven in an ECW ring as opposed to by wrestlers who are over with the mainstream in WCW and the fans don't groan because they are superstars doesn't make them any less blown in either setting."

and

"Ricardo Morais and Sean Alvares from Brazil will be doing what will probably be shoot matches on the 12/23 RINGS show in Fukuoka."

December 15, 1997:

"JAPANESE TELEVISION RUNDOWN
11/20 RINGS: 1. Gilbert Yvel beat Lev Barkala in 10:47. This was a shoot and it was the only one on the show. Yvel was a kickboxer from The Netherlands and Barkala was a wrestler from Russia. It was a sloppy match since Yvel was mostly scampering away whenever he got taken down although there were good exchanges on their feet as Barkala had no fear of Yvel. This once again showed that a stand-up fighter, even with punches to the face eliminated, is favored more under these rules than UFC rules for two reasons. The smaller ring enables them to get near the ropes easier and avoid take-downs using the ropes for balance, and secondly the rope breaks on submissions. RINGS favors strikers more than Pancrase because you get so many more rope breaks before the match ends, as Yvel was behind in points 7-2 at the finish. Yvel used both to stay alive until finally knocking Barkala out with a series of knees to the chin; 2. Masayuki Naruse beat Mohammad Yone in 5:35 with a choke. Yone is Battlarts fighter Satoshi Yoneyama using a new name. Naruse, who is far more experienced, was carrying Yone and it was obvious. Not a good match even though these are two Japanese wrestlers who should be experienced enough with worked shoots to do the style well; 3. Illoukhine Mikhail upset Tsuyoshi Kousaka in first quarterfinal match of the Battle Dimension '97 tournament in 14:11. This was a good RINGS style match, but not great. Kousaka looked good carrying things. Mikhail, who has done well in the past in UFC-type events, got a heel hook for a quick submission after being on the receiving end for the majority of the match; 4. Akira Maeda beat Mitsuya Nagai in 17:00. This was actually the best match on the card, all due to Nagai. Nagai, who is a competitive heavyweight kickboxer, dominated Maeda on their feet and really rocked him on several occasions before they'd go to the ground to allow Maeda to recover and control him. Maeda looked really bad, as in slow and out-of-shape, but in that way it made the match exciting because it looked like there would be an upset, and Maeda did allow himself to take a lot of punishment to get the match over. Of course Maeda blew up badly so the exciting spots on their feet weren't sustained and would be followed with resting on the mat. This was an angle match as well, as Nagai continually worked on Maeda's bad left knee, which is as a shoot angle situation, something inside fans know is an unwritten rule in RINGS to stay away. So after the match, the two argued in the ring and Maeda slapped Nagai in the face and they did a pull-apart; 5. Volk Han beat Dick Vrij in 7:15. Also a good match. Han got knocked down three times to make fans feel there might be an upset, the second straight match with the same storyline. The first two knockdowns really weren't much, but the third looked great as a Vrij kick caught Han in the nose and his nose swelled up big-time. Han immediately finished with a choke after suffering the injury; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Joop Kasteel in 6:30. Kasteel, who looks like a huge bodybuilder, outweighed Tamura by 77 pounds, 266 to 189. Even more than the Hanse Nyman and Bitzsade Tariel matches, the size difference looked huge because Kasteel is a bodybuilder while the other two are simply big fat guys fighting a very small but muscular foe. It looked believable in that Tamura couldn't score a take-down on such a larger foe, but Kasteel didn't want to fight on the ground. However, they did nothing on their feet. Since it was mainly on their feet, it was a bad match until Tamura finished him with an ankle lock. Easily Tamura's worst match since joining the company last year to cap off a disappointing show."

and

"Added to the RINGS show on 12/23 in Fukuoka will be what would be believed to be shoot matches with Ricardo Morais (7-0-1 in NHB) vs. Grom Zaza (a former Russian Olympic wrestler who has been working RINGS for a few years) and Sean Alvares (who beat Yoji Anjoh in NHB and lost to Oleg Taktarov) vs. Willie Peeters (a RINGS veteran with a 3-1 NHB record including winning a brutal tournament in Holland and losing a singles match in a matter of seconds to Tom Erikson at MARS last year)."

and

"RINGS on 12/23 in Fukuoka has the tournament semifinals with Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Akira Maeda and Volk Han vs. Illoukhine Mikhail, plus shoot matches with Ricardo Morais vs. Grom Zaza and Willie Peeters vs. Sean Alvares, plus Masayuki Naruse vs. Wataru Sakata and Chris Hazemann vs. Tsuyoshi Kousaka.

Tamura just came out with a book and in the book Maeda viciously ripped the Pancrase promotion and also blamed Minoru Suzuki, Masakatsu Funaki and Yoji Anjoh for an incident many years ago where a prospective wrestler died in the old UWF dojo.

Even though RINGS appears to be the most popular of the shoot style promotions right now, some think Pancrase has the better future because far more young wrestlers are training at their dojo. The younger guys who want to be shooters are training either for Pancrase or Shooto as I guess once they get to the point of wanting to be shooters, they figure out RINGS is largely not a shoot."

and finally, in Tadashi Tanaka news:

"Frequent Observer contributor Tadashi Tanaka's book largely covering K-1, Pancrase, RINGS, UFC, ECW and Michinoku wrestling along with talking about the year in U.S. wrestling was released in Japan on 12/5."

IT WOULD APPEAR DAVE DID NOT LIKE THIS SHOW nearly as much as I did but either way we are on to the semi-finals! I hope to see you then! Thank you, as always, for your time.